Whenever Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk speaks in a public forum, it usually leaves fans of the team white-knuckling whatever they’re holding. Throughout his reign in the capital, Melnyk has had something of a propensity to leave his consumer base feeling an odd mix of frustration, amusement, and even despondence at times.
Fans enjoyed a relatively quiet season from Melnyk. The owner largely kept out of the public eye, allowing the product on the ice to speak for itself, but that has changed over the past week or so. From another lawsuit, this time with a luxury cruise line, to an appearance on The Bob McCown Podcast, Melnyk has stepped back into the media gaze in typical bull-in-a-china-shop fashion.
The podcast in particular yielded a proverbial gold mine of Melnyk sound bites. From his displeasure with a Porsche dealership being granted tax breaks instead of him, to blaming “previous management” for the failed LeBreton Flats arena development, Melnyk had no shortage of things to say. If there was one quote that should stand out to Sens fans, however, it was in regards to the team’s vacant captaincy:
"Can't have a captain there on a bridge contract. It's not going to happen."— Graeme Nichols (@6thSens) May 19, 2021
It goes without saying, but the quote is obviously in reference to pending restricted free agent Brady Tkachuk. The 21 year-old is entering the offseason after a year in which he notched 36 points in 56 games, a career best pace that would have seen him hit 52 in a full 82 game season. During something of a down year for fellow star Thomas Chabot, Tkachuk cemented himself as the heart and soul of the Senators, leading both by example and in the media. Teammates and staff raved about the Scottsdale, Arizona native’s leadership ability, confirming what those of us who have watched him already knew.
The Senators haven’t had a captain since September 13th of 2018, when Erik Karlsson was traded to the San Jose Sharks. In the wake of his departure, conjecture has been rampant as to who should be his successor. Both Tkachuk and Chabot have made compelling cases, but now it seems that the final decision appears to come down to their respective contract situations. Chabot having seven years remaining on his current deal makes him the more fitting candidate in that regard, but this shouldn’t be the defining factor.
Tkachuk has proven his value to the Senators organization. He has emphatically stepped into the role of the team’s top forward, despite concerns that his production would tail off with the trade of Mark Stone to the Vegas Golden Knights in 2019. Through his first three seasons, Tkachuk boasts an average Corsi rating of 49.75, and expected goals percentage of 53.01, but when we dig into his isolated impact (care of hockeyviz.com) the numbers truly reflect what the eyes can so plainly see. Brady Tkachuk is an offensive dynamo:
Tkachuk has proven through his first three seasons that he is the engine of the Senators, especially in the offensive zone. His play-driving ability is invaluable to the team, and one has to shudder when they think of how the squad would look without him.
This also says nothing of the young forward’s impact on the fanbase. Few players in Senators history have been as beloved both on and off the ice as Tkachuk, especially early in their careers, and he has been the main catalyst for a fan revival after the devastating loss of beloved figures like Karlsson and Stone.
The chances of Tkachuk not returning to the Senators this off-season are microscopic, but this is still a situation that Melnyk, and general manager Pierre Dorion, need to handle as delicately as possible. At this point it seems all but a foregone conclusion that Tkachuk won’t be signing a long-term deal this summer, instead opting for a bridge deal in the same vein as his brother Matthew’s with the Calgary Flames. This is understandable; Brady knows his value to the team, and there’s no sense in him signing away his prime years before the salary cap bounces back in a few years. There shouldn’t be any reason for Sens fans to panic even if the younger Tkachuk opts for a shorter deal.
This also doesn’t mean that the Senators should hold out on giving him the captaincy. If anything, it means quite the opposite: this is still an organization that has yet to demonstrate a long-term commitment to winning, especially the necessary financial concessions that come with it. Giving Tkachuk the ‘C’ would say in no uncertain terms that Ottawa is steadfast in building around him, and making the capital his home for life; even if it means signing another big contract after this next one.
It also holds the potential to aid that seemingly inevitable long-term negotiation. Making Tkachuk the captain on a bridge deal would be a gesture of good faith that could stand to give the star forward a reason to be more inclined to sign with the team for at least the majority of his career. Regardless of his current contract situation, if the Senators demonstrate a commitment to Tkachuk now, he will be more likely to reciprocate going forward.
The reality is that whether Tkachuk signs a bridge deal, or inks up with the Senators long-term, there should be no reason that the organization holds back from making him the captain. Whether they like it or not, Ottawa still has work to do in proving that they are in this for the long haul. Contracts aside, Melnyk needs to put his faith in Tkachuk if he expects him to return the favour. This should be the easiest of layups.